Elgin natives Jon and Kathleen Mink decided to sell the house where they raised their family and buy a new, low-maintenance home, but they didn't want to leave their extended family, also residents of the river community.
So they bought a house in the "adult enclave" portion of one of the many new developments on the west side of town.
The Minks are typical of Elgin's new-home buyers, says the city's mayor, Ed Schock. Elgin residents are "fiercely loyal" to their hometown, he says.
"This is not a sterile, new suburb," says Schock. "It's a self-sufficient city with a lot of history and a gritty kind of energy."
For Jon Mink, that history stretches back four generations.
The latest wave of development in Elgin, a wide north-south swath on the far west side of the community, is comprised of homes for move-up buyers and empty-nesters who, along with the Minks, want newer (but not necessarily smaller) houses.
Such houses stand in contrast to the lower-priced, older housing stock in much of the community. But the larger houses are in Elgin to stay.
"This is what people wanted," says Schock, a retired school principal. "I have a drawer full of letters here from people who had told me, 'I want a bigger house, and want to stay in Elgin, but there's not much out there.' "
Recognizing the higher price tags for the newer homes, real estate brokers list many as being in "West Elgin," although the locals know there is no such town.
The Minks' neighborhood,
' Bowes Creek Country Club, is a planned community that includes clubhouses and a golf course. It has townhouses that start at $278,975, single-family "estate" homes that surround the golf course and start at $433,975 and its "adult enclave."
The latter is for ages 55 and older and includes townhouses that start at $256,975 and single-family houses starting at $285,975.
Other offerings in this price range are Ryland Homes' Shadow Hill (single-family and townhouses) and Pulte Homes' adults-only Edgewater (single-family).
Tucked among the pricier, west-side development are some clusters of affordable townhouses, such as Town & Country Homes' Providence, where units start at $195,995.
At the high end of the price ladder is Crown Community Development's Highland Woods, where buyers can choose from 11 custom builders who are building single-family homes here in the $400,000 to $900,000 range on quarter- to half-acre sites. (Prices include lots.) Prices for townhouses are not yet determined.
Unlike the earlier developments closer to Elgin's downtown, many of the west side houses are set on rolling land, with groves of mature trees, laced with ponds and wetlands.
"This is not a cornfield subdivision," says Mink of Bowes Creek.
These neighborhoods also differ because they are not all in the Elgin-based School District U-46.
Most are in the Burlington-based School District 301 or Carpentersville-based School District 300.
Settling among the long-time Elginites are some newcomers, such as Karen and Frank Hope. They bought a house in Kimball Hill Homes' Waterford in January after Frank was transferred here from Tennessee.
"We looked all around the Chicago area, but found we got more house for our money here," says Karen Hope. "We like having the clubhouse and pool for the kids. We're close to shopping on Randall Road and to downtown Elgin, but not too close."
Waterford houses start at $302,990 for three- to four-bedroom houses with two-car garages, in ranch or two-story styles.
The blueprint for Elgin's growth is the "2005 Comprehensive Plan and Design Guidelines," which tells builders that the city prefers New Urbanism-style features and sustainable materials.
This list of goals is more evident in some developments than others.
Gardens, built by West Point Builders, for example, features front porches and garages in the rear.
Townhouses start at $237,990 and single-family houses at $324,990.
In downtown Elgin, though, New Urbanism fans can find townhouses and rowhouses. Or, they can live over the store in RSC & Associates' Fountain Square on the River. This mixed-use project, located on the former site of the Joseph Spiess Co. department store, includes a 9-story condo building with retail on the first floor and, down the road, adjacent townhouses. One-bedroom condos start at $229,900.
As Elgin's last farms morph into housing developments, has this 172-year-old city become a bedroom community, comprised mostly of residents who head to one of its three
stations or the Northwest Tollway each day to work elsewhere?
"Not at all," says Schock, the grandson of a Kane County dairy farmer. "Elgin is still a major employer."
Gone are the farms and Elgin National Watch Co.. But they have been replaced with two regional hospitals and a diverse mix of manufacturers, wholesalers and white-collar firms that fill the office parks along Randall Road.
The city's westward expansion is mostly the result of annexation of former farms and has occurred without huge opposition.
"The farmers are retiring, their kids are not taking over the farms, and they are eager to get the millions of dollars they can get for their land," says Schock. "Most of the opposition comes from people in the small, rural subdivisions where they have a few acres and have been surrounded by farms."
Higher density on Elgin's west side is inevitable, says Schock.
"People want bigger houses and don't want an acre of grass," he says. "Who has time to ride a mower all weekend?"
The city projects it will grow from its current population of 110,500 to 150,000 in 2015, and will include 16,000 new dwellings.
As Elgin's population has swelled, its ethnic mix has diversified from its German roots. Its Hispanic population, especially, has grown to about 34 percent.
"This is not a vanilla city - not the people or the housing," says Schock. "Our festivals reflect the diversity of cultures. And our housing ranges from the old, architectural treasures to the new homes."
from other mid-sized Illinois cities, says Schock, is its active neighborhood groups.
"People don't realize that some of our biggest events, like the Gifford Park Association's annual historic house tour and the Elgin Cycling Classic, are run by neighborhoods, not by the city," says Schock. "These are events that draw people from all over."
Key to Elgin's growth, says Schock, is the continued revitalization of its downtown, which straddles the Fox River. Twenty years ago, after downtown retailers lost out to regional malls, downtown was a dismal place, with shuttered storefronts and crumbling former factories.
Now, thanks in part to money from the Grand Victoria Riverboat, it is a phoenix, rising as a mix of multi-family housing, riverfront parks and restaurants. Its new library and recreational center are linked by walking/bicycling paths to the Hemmens Cultural Center, which is home to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.
Ringing Elgin's downtown are its four historic districts, known for their fine collections of Victorian, Queen Anne, Italianate, prairie-style and vernacular houses, many of which date back to the 1800s. And, it has one of the largest collections of catalog houses from the early 20th Century, including those from
and Gordon-Van Tine Co.
While the central Fox Valley cities are seeing teardowns in their inner rings, Elgin is preserving its grand old homes. Dozens of them that had turned into apartment buildings during the Depression have been restored to their former, single-family glory.
Elgin's expansion will end when it reaches the small towns that form a string to its west, from Gilberts and Pingree Grove on the north to South Elgin and Lily Lake on the south. Then, Illinois Highway 47, which the Comprehensive Plan calls the "new frontier" for commercial development for this decade, will, roughly, form Elgin's western side.
Now, Elgin's housing has gone full circle, from offering sprawling mansions for 19th Century industry leaders, to building upscale houses to meet the needs of today's executives.